It seems all but inevitable now that Giants coach Jim Fassel will be dismissed after the final two games of the 2003 season, because in spite of his often productive seasons in the past, this one has deteriorated far more quickly and disastrously than can be accepted by management and ownership.
The Giants, preseason co-favorites along with Philadelphia and St. Louis to fight for the NFC championship and a place in Super Bowl XXXVIII, have instead virtually disappeared. Their latest loss Sunday night to New Orleans was probably the finishing point, a 45-7 humiliation on national television that seems to have sealed Fassel's fate.
It is probably unfair to suggest that the team has quit on Fassel, although there is more and more evidence -- growing evidence, if you will -- that there is truth in that damning statement.
Rather, it is the unprecedented series of injuries that have wiped out fully half of the starters with whom the team opened the season, along with unsuccessful high draft choices and an almost 100 percent fruitless pursuit of veteran free agents that will put the franchise in the market for a new coach as early as the day after the final game on Dec. 28 against playoff bound Carolina.
Since opening day (which was a 23-13 victory over St. Louis), three quarters of the secondary (cornerbacks Will Allen and Will Peterson and strong safety Shaun Williams) and defensive end Kenny Holmes have been placed on Injured Reserve.
During that same period, offensive players have fallen in sickening numbers, and while not all of them have gone to Injured Reserve, enough of them have missed up to six and seven games with nagging injuries. They include tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Marcellus Rivers, left tackle Luke Petitgout, center/guard Wayne Lucier (a rookie), quarterback Kerry Collins and wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Tim Carter.
The first four draft picks have proven to be of little or no help. They were defensive end William Joseph, defensive end Osi Umenyiora, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and cornerback Rod Babers. The first three made the team but have offered virtually no help; Babers was summarily released near the end of summer camp.
But the focal point for the severe disappointment has been Fassel. He has been criticized for being too lenient, not being enough of a disciplinarian, an inadequate sideline coach, a woeful clock manager and, this year, a poor offensive coordinator. He took those duties from Sean Payton, who he demoted.
"No man who becomes a head coach in this league comes into it blind," Fassel says. "A head coach is hired to be fired, eventually. If you don't think you can handle the pressure, then don't take the job."
Fassel, well liked by the Giants' ownership and respected as an offensive coach, will almost certainly be released from the team (with one year remaining on his contract that should provide him roughly $2.5 million) and hired elsewhere sooner rather than later. His staff might find more difficulty gaining immediate employment, however.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--CB Ralph Brown, who filled in for injured starter Will Peterson, and was himself sidelined for four weeks with a dislocated shoulder, injured the same shoulder vs. the Saints and is doubtful for Sunday's game in Dallas. "I don't really know what his availability will be this week," coach Jim Fassel said.
--QB Kerry Collins, whose high ankle sprain kept him out of the New Orleans game and ended his string of 67 consecutive starts, might be able to play in Dallas, but Fassel insists he won't throw him into the action if he isn't mobile. "Considering the state of our (offensive) line, I won't ask him to take that kind of a beating," he said.
--QB Jesse Palmer got his first-ever NFL start and was unfortunately the signal caller of record for the 45-7 nightmare. "Considering all the problems," Fassel said, "I thought Jesse did all right."
--RB Tiki Barber was held to 37 yards rushing in 11 carries, moving his season total to 1,130 yards and all but eliminating any chance of surpassing his career best, which was the 1,387 he gained last season. Barber also led the team with five receptions for 33 yards, and temporarily, at least, stands as the Giants' leading receiver for the season with 61 catches, since the previous leader, wideout Ike Hilliard, was on the Game Inactive list and thus stayed at 60 receptions.
--CB Kato Serwanga re-injured his hip and knee Sunday, coach Jim Fassel said. "I think he'll be alright, but I really don't know," Fassel said. "It doesn't help us in that position."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS SAINTS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- With QB Kerry Collins watching from the sidelines, placed on Game Inactive because of a high ankle sprain, young Jesse Palmer got his first NFL start. Things didn't go that well, which was more of an indictment of the put-together O-line than the skills, whatever they may be, possessed by Palmer. He rushed his decisions, threw badly at times but in general really didn't have much of a chance. The young O-line, which had played reasonably well the week before, simply played poorly. LT Luke Petitgout missed his second straight game with a wrenched back that might require off-season surgery. Of Palmer's 15 completions, only four were caught by wide receivers - two by veteran Amani Toomer for 20 yards led that parade.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Rushing yardage? What rushing yardage? Team leader Tiki Barber managed only 37 yards in 11 carries, and yes, he did fumble again. Dorsey Levens, who got a longer look than in most games, carried eight times for the same 37 yards. The blocking was spotty at best, sporadic at best, non-existent at worst. LG Scott Peters had a particularly ineffective game, even missing blocks when he was a pulling guard by throwing himself at his target -- and missing. The question was why so many running plays (26) were called with the O-line as suspect as it was and the game score escalating out of control from the opening whistle.
PASS DEFENSE: D-minus -- Not much at all. QB Aaron Brooks had a nearly perfect game, completing 26 of 35 passes for 296 yards and five TDs, four going to WR Joe Horn despite several times when he was in alleged double coverage. The defensive formations were immaterial; lots of "cover-2" and zone. It was just that the makeshift secondary wasn't capable of executing the assignments. There was no pass rush until late in the fourth quarter when DT Lance Legree, a backup, recorded a sack, the only one the Giants would get.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Saints were having so much fun throwing the ball they didn't exploit the rush defense nearly as often as they might have; hence, superstar RB Deuce McAllister was held to 80 yards rushing in 15 carries while Lamar Smith, his backup, added 40 in just eight carries. LDE Michael Strahan was double-teamed most of the game and the other three were simply unable to make up for that. DT Keith Hamilton led the line with six tackles but was also guilty of two penalties that gave up more yardage.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Brian Mitchell added a little production to a distressingly bad season after being signed as a veteran FA. He returned four kickoffs for 86 yards, and his backup, Delvin Joyce, returned four more for 78. So efficient was the Saints' offense that only once was a punt necessary -- Mitchell took it back 10 yards. Jeff Feagles punted six times for a 42.5 average (37.2 net). K Matt Bryant tried only one FG and it was blocked (by D-lineman Kenny Smith) and returned 64 yards for a TD by CB Fred Thomas. "Their front just crushed our blockers," Fassel said. "The ball wasn't kicked low, the snap was good and the hold was good."
COACHING: C-minus -- Fassel simply had no control over the outcome, and the only criticism was that he called 26 running plays when the Giants had fallen hopelessly behind and there was little or no blocking. Better he should have just seen what Jesse Palmer could do in a passing situation, assuming he got enough time to do that. So it was a case of the head coach not exercising any control over the offensive coordinator (they are the same man). It is unfair to criticize defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn any longer because he didn't have enough acceptable defensive players to make anything work.
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